Saturday, March 29, 2008

I've been reading my way through Robert Alan Jamieson's Nort Atlantik Drift which is a beautiful hardback book of poems written in Shetlandic dialect with English translations accompanied by a collection of black and white photographs of everyday life in Shetland.

I met Alan Jamieson years ago when he was the writer-in-residence at Glasgow uni and thought he was a lovely wee man and I was interested in his Shetlandic background. When I saw he was reading at StAnza I made sure I got a ticket to hear him.
I loved hearing him read in Shetlandic and despite the vast differences between the dialect and English I was able to get the gist of most of what he read.

Reading the book is another matter! I can barely make head nor tail of the Shetlandic versions of the poems, they seem to be written in code rather than a language, which, with a bit of time and effort I should be able to crack. I guess it's one of the many strange features of a dialect - of being a language but not being a language.
Aesthetically-speaking I love the book, the shape, the size, the feel of it, the black and white photos, the poems of mariners and island life, part autobiographical and part fiction according to Jamieson. I feel quite connected to it with my island connection and the fact my father was a mariner.

The poems are nostalgic yet sharp with Shetlandic detail with the 'dark peaty water' and men in 'yellow oilskins'. He writes of island practices such as the 'sharing of a boat's catch' with the elderly in the village who in turn fills the fisherman 'full of bannocks'.

Here's a taste of the Shetlandic dialect from the poem 'The Boatbuilder's Nephew' -

Da Boat Biggir's Nefjoo

Quhan da baerns chap da windoo
he hadds up da sjip ati'da bottil,
sjaaks his hed - awa!

An da aald fokk sae -
'Tink naethin o'it.'
'Tym'll tell'. 'du'll fin dy nitch.'

He tinks - Foo daes'it kum t'gjing insyd?
No a trikk, bit maachikk.
Donna shaa me, I waant it ta happin.

An da aald fokk sae -
'Quhar dir's a will, dir's a wy.
Aniddir skurtfoo fae da skroo.'

Translation -

When the children tap the window, he holds up the ship in the bottle,
shakes his head - away!

And the old folk say - 'Think nothing of it.' 'Time will tell.' 'You'll
find your niche.'

He thinks - How does it come to go inside? Not a trick, but magic.
Don't show me, I want it to happen.

And the old folk say - 'Where there's a will there's a way. Another
armful from the haystack.'


The old folk here remind me of the chorus in a Greek tragedy! It's really lovely book and I'd recommend it to anyone.

4 comments:

An Honest Man said...

I wonder if there's some reason behind me understanding the Shetlandic - with the exception of the last line and it's translation.

I'm wondering about skurtfoo in particular. There used to be a very small amount of hand reaping near where I lived when I was small and the men (and women) used to wear aprons which they referred to as skirts. I would see them carrying a load wrapped in the apron and I imagine it would be equivalent to an armful.

Skroo = Haystack is totally new to me though.

I do like the original though - it "sounds" better!

Sorlil said...

interesting, I'm impressed you're able to read it out. I sound like I'm speaking in tongues when I try to read it aloud!

Dave King said...

This book sounds absolutely fabulous. I think it is a "must have", so far as I am concerned. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. (A "must visit" blog, by the way. Congratulations!)

Sorlil said...

thanks dave, that's very nice of you to say so!